Craig LaBan: I think Michelin has evolved a little since it entered the American market, acknowledging that some Japanese and even some Italian-influenced flavors are worth the kind of stars usually reserved for fancy French places. But clearly not enough. The main criticism is that the old Michelin standards, with a priority on white-tablecloth luxury, have become irrelevant, given all the changes in the industry lately. I've done my best to speak to those changes with my own rating system, which I think acknowledges both all the different aspirations of a very diverse dining scene, but puts in context the bigger cultural forces that have really changed the answer to this fundamental question: What is a great restaurant in 2012? It's sure not the same criterion as 1998 when I got here. All that said, I don't think the Michelin-style restaurant - all-out luxury - is really what Philly dining is about. I do think Vetri would score pretty well with the judges, but so many of our other great places - Bibou, Talula's Table (both BYOs), and Zahav (obviously, no tablecloths, casual, and not French) - would simply confound an old-school Michelin judge. So really, why is it even important?
Reader: Who cares about Michelin stars? Let's talk food. Recently discovered the new menu at Twisted Tail in Headhouse. Had a great buttermilk chicken sandwich on a homemade biscuit. Also tried the ribs and the crawfish mac and cheese, which were both solid. Excited to try more of the menu!
Craig LaBan: Thanks for bringing up the Twisted Tail, which has had minimal buzz, to say the least. I've yet to get there. But one of these days, I will give it a try before the Head House farmer's market calls it quits for the season. This sounds promising - Southern food, live blues, and whiskey.
Reader: Do you ever eat in Northeast?
Craig LaBan: Sure, not as much as I'd like to, but I just reviewed an Uzbeki place in Feasterville which is just outside Northeast Philly. It's been a while, though, since I reviewed a place in Northeast proper. I'm overdue.
Reader: Tell us more about your visit to Ultimo Coffee. Walked past the other day and want to give their hot chocolate a try.
Craig LaBan: Great new space at 22d and Catharine - really bright and modern - that speaks to the rapid evolution of the Graduate Hospital neighborhood. And, of course, the coffee is top-notch. Interesting that this Ultimo is doing all-Chemex pots once the morning rush is over. Chemex is my favorite coffee method for drip. They've got a Strada machine for awesome espresso, too, though I haven't sampled those yet. But this cocoa got the stamp of approval from my 13-year-old girl.
Guest: Why would anyone buy marinara sauce? It is the easiest and fastest sauce to prepare, not too mention cheap. I'm surprised a home cook like you, Craig, would buy a marinara.
Craig LaBan: Please. I make tomato sauce all the time. But it is still great to have a pint or two of good sauce in the freezer - especially when it's as good as this [from Pastificio]. I make fantastic stock, too. That doesn't mean I don't occasionally run out and need to use boxed stock for a stew or pilaf or whatever if I get the whim. My freezer is too small. Plus, I don't always have as much time as I'd like to cook!